Well, needless to say, this is what we thought the games would look like for this team. There was little doubt that this Lakers squad had a good deal of talent by summer league standards, but after the first two games, there was serious doubt that the coaching staff possessed sufficient chops to engineer an environment in which the players could shine. Indeed, a lot of what we saw previously was the Lakers' biggest performers in Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson more or less freelancing to create their own offense since there was so little overall structure that they more or less were obligated to take things into their own hands.
So kudos go to Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis since they hugely rebounded in game three. The sets looked crisp, the Lakers were talking more on defense, and they actually looked like they belonged out there on the court. Madsen and Lewis topped this off with a slew of better rotation choices, none more important than sitting the underperforming Jerome Jordan and Xavier Gibson in favor of Trey Thompkins, who played well yet again in what has been a solid summer league for him as he finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. His outside shot wasn't quite as consistent this time around, but he's a smart offensive player in general and really has the skill set to be effective inside and out, whether it's hitting from range or scoring over his man in the post with turnaround jumpers.
Where Thompkins had the most impact, however, was freeing up his frontcourt counterpart in Randle to terrorize the Golden State bigs off the dribble, as the Lakers went five out and gave Randle more space than he likely ever enjoyed at Kentucky to employ his face-up game. While there were plenty of out of control sequences and a bit too much youthful exuberance from Randle, there were also a good deal of times in which the opposing bigs were simply dead in the water since it's hard to fathom how you stop Randle in space once he gets a head of steam. His excellent first step allows him to blow towards the rim in a moment, his dribbling ability freezes bigs before he makes his move, and his combination of size, strength, and body control allows him to take contact and finish despite always going back to his left hand.
Randle also added a new wrinkle tonight in his drive and kick game, as he racked up three assists and generated a half-dozen open looks by sucking in the defense and dishing to the open man. This is where the spacing Thompkins provided was most valuable, making you wonder if he is on his way towards a training camp invite and whether this is something the Lakers should experiment with next season by playing Ryan Kelly at the five. As mentioned, Randle experienced his fair share of mishaps, mainly overdribbling into a crowd of defenders and having some awkward turnovers when bringing the ball up the floor, both things probably accentuated by the heavy fatigue he was experiencing at the end of the game due to his current poor conditioning.
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Still, on the whole, it was definitely an impressive performance for Randle that allowed him to show a lot of his strengths (and weaknesses). His defense was also surprisingly good, as his lateral quickness is superb for a guy of his size, enabling him to rotate and switch onto guards and wings in order to help contain penetration. His effort and competitiveness were on view at both ends, his forays into hero ball notwithstanding, and that's always something nice to see from a highly drafted prospect. As Randle gets his wind under him and hopefully starts hitting those midrange jumpers, we'll start to see some more consistent refinement from him on both ends.
Randle, of course, wasn't the hero of the hour, as that honor goes to Clarkson, who in very time-honored Laker fashion, tipped in the baseline fadeaway miss of his star player for the win at the buzzer. His efficiency wasn't quite as good as in past contests and like Randle, got visibly winded as the game went on, as the explosion and burst and consistently allows him to get to the rim was lacking. Still, Clarkson remains super accurate from range on spot-up opportunities and even if it's not going in on the time, exudes a ton of confidence at taking shots off the dribble, which is a great for a guy who needs to improve in that area. He ultimately might not possess the distributing chops to play the point full-time, but at this early stage, certainly appears to bring an awful lot of positives to the floor.
And on that note, it was a bit of a comeback for the more pass-minded Kendall Marshall, who managed to find more success through increasing his aggression off the dribble. Instead of going for the pass every time, Marshall took the open pull-up opportunities that were afforded to him and started hitting quite a few of them, a good sign for a guy that desperately needs an in-between game to be effective. He also displayed a bit of wizardry off the dribble, using crossovers to get space for either his jumper or to open lanes for his passes. For their part, a fair chunk of the wings and bigs on the roster, whether it's Roscoe Smith, Kevin Murphy, or Trevor Mbakwe do a good job of making themselves available on the baseline for cuts and in a general, it's a sign of the greater offensive cohesion.
Past the usual suspects, DeAndre Kane and LaQuinton Ross, both favorites to make noise for the Lakers going into summer camp, managed to get minutes in this game as the rotation started to tighten. Kane oddly had more or less the inverse of the rather controlled performance he manged to pull off last game, as the spot-on distributing was replaced by a compulsive desire to take the ball at the basket at every opportunity. At times, that's beneficial when he's hitting the defensive glass and starting the break, for instance, but a lot of times, it just landed him in hot water when he got into the teeth of the defense without a plan. If he wants any hope of getting a camp invite, he probably needs to dial back the aggressiveness in favor of some smarter play, something especially relevant for Kane because his age makes latching onto a NBA team a big priority as far as his career is concerned.
As for Ross, he finally managed to make it off the bench and displayed some interesting looks a bit at odds with the available scouting report. For one, he was consistently trying to get the ball in the post to score there, a surprising development for someone expected to be a designated spot-up shooter. This earned him quite a few trips to the line and he was also able to use his solid length for the wing to be a factor on the offensive glass. He also put his length to good use on defense, as while Orlando Johnson and others managed to make a few buckets over his contests, his overall effort was solid and he was running out on shooters and moving his feet decently. Considering the paucity of true threes on the roster, the coaches' inclination towards smallball notwithstanding, one would hope he gets a longer look in the remaining games ahead.
Altogether, this was a very good effort by the Lakers against a Warriors squad that was running some pretty solid sets under the leadership of new head coach Steve Kerr and not only are we getting an exciting look at the rookies and how they might perform next year, we also are getting a good opportunity to parse the rest of the roster for possible contributors. Thompkins is the current leader by a significant margin s far as getting a camp invite goes, but Kane and Ross inserting themselves into the discussion is always a good thing. This is very likely the rotation that the coaches go with into the final games, so it behooves the Lakers to improve their consistency and continue riding this momentum moving forward.
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